The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on May 18, 1997 · Page 4
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 4

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Sunday, May 18, 1997
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A4 SUNDAY, MAY 18, 1997 OPINION THE SALINA JOURNAL George B. Pyle editorial page editor Opinions expressed on this page are those of the identified writers. To join the conversation, write a letter to the Journal at: P.O. Box 740 Sallna, KS 67402 Fax: (913) 827-6363 E-mail: SJLetters® •aljournal.com Quote of the day "We should have agreements with foreign countries that they can give as much to our campaigns as the CIA gives to theirs." Eugene McCarthy former U.S. senator and presidential candidate, on campaign finance reform. By GEORGE 8. PYLE / The Salina Journal Dirty deals done dirt cheap THE ISSUE Welfare for the rich THE ARGUMENT Congress is drowning in deals M onday, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt sold federal land containing an estimated $110 million in gold reserves to a private company for $620. It made less news, and brought less Republican protest, than putting a Democratic fat cat up in the Lincoln bedroom for a night. But, then, it wasn't anything that did or will bring a donation to the Democratic National Committee. It just sold the taxpayers down the river — again. Somehow, the Republican leaders in Congress never seem to get too worried about that. If Babbitt had done what he did as a favor to a political contributor, it would be the smoking gun the administration's rivals are looking for. Impeachment would have been in order. Babbitt himself said that if a private corporation gave away such a huge resource for such a small price, he, as head of that corporation, would be prosecuted for conspiracy to defraud his stockholders. But the secretary had no choice. It seems there is a law, passed 125 years ago this week, that forces him to turn over federal property — in this case, 248 acres in Nevada — to anybody in a position to mine it. During the administration of Ulysses S. Grant, it made sense to the Manifest Destiny mind to dangle the lure of practically free gold in front of people who would leave the overcrowded cities of the east, roll up their sleeves and develop the vast untapped wealth of the west. Today, with the land going to international mining companies, this taxpayer sell-out amounts to a crime. Babbitt says so at every opportunity. But nothing changes. There is no excuse for this policy, a policy that encourages more environmentally destructive mining and gives away billions in assets that are really owned by the American people. But the law remains in place, year after year, because Congress cannot muster the nerve to change it. Members of Congress also continue to make indirect subsidies to tobacco growers and look the other way as loggers devastate old-growth forests, often with federal money paying for the roads they need to haul the trees out. Why? Back-scratching. Congress does not represent the people so much as the rival concerns of uncounted interest groups. These groups trade favors back and forth until they win the votes needed to maintain this or that form of welfare for the rich. Kansas congressmen, for example, have long justified unjustifiable votes on the grounds that their support for tobacco or logging rip-offs was needed to win federal support for our wheat. But if the Republican Congress is really going to be a change from business as usual, this log-rolling must end. Which member of the Kansas delegation to Congress will be the first to stand up to say no more? Who among them will risk the wrath of his colleagues to do the right thing? Don't hold your breath. LETTERS TO THE JOURNAL * SJLetters@saljournal.com ; Docking Institute kept | its independence ; I want to congratulate you on i. your early attention to the issue of r "retail wheeling" of electricity. !. Like other "de-regulations" and • "re-regulations" of transportation, banking, telecommunications or natural gas, there will be , shifts in costs and there will be winners and losers. Retail wheeling is a likely event and persons in rural areas must make themselves aware of the issues of electrical regulation and become active in ; assuring that access is affordable ' in even the most rural of areas. We appreciate your mention of the Docking Institute study "Economic Impact of Retail Wheeling : on Areas Served by Kansas Rural Electric Cooperatives." This study was financially supported by three organizations: Sunflower Electric, Kansas Electrical Power Cooperative Inc. and Kansas Electric Cooperatives Inc. The Docking Institute only agreed to undertake this study after reaching an agreement with the three sponsoring organizations. *, We required that the institute have access to all data which we P.O. Box 740, Salina, KS 67402 might need from four representative rural electric cooperatives — one from each rural region of the state. The Docking Institute mandated language in the research agreement which stated: "The Institute will maintain independent control over the economic assumptions, methodology, and outcome of the study." We maintained this independence throughout the process — sometimes at the consternation of the sponsors. The Docking Institute of Public Affairs has been in existence for 17 years and its reputation cannot be purchased or even rented. The Docking Institute has no interest in retail wheeling other than the future well-being of the rural communities of Kansas. Residents of Salina as well as those from your rural coverage area should be interested in this issue. The future well-being of Salina and other regional trade centers is tied to the future of the farms and small communities of Kansas. -- MARK BANNISTER Hays • Mark Bannister is the director of The Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University. aa STOCK MKT. Speaking o£ Irrationality Boy. TORY NOTIONS For and against inheritance taxes Do inheritance taxes encourage heirs to be lazy, or families to be thrifty? I rwin Stelzer was born in modest circumstances on Manhattan's Lower East Side.' After college he made lots of money as an economic consultant. Today he has homes in Aspen, London and Washington, where he thinks at The American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. His hobby is writing trenchantly about public policy. Many conservatives, once they read his essay about inheritance taxes (in The Weekly Standard, out today), may wish Stelzer would find another hobby. Most conservatives want to cut inheritance taxation, if they cannot abolish it. They say such taxation is institutionalized envy, confiscation in the service of egalitarian social v engineering, and an affront to family values. Stelzer, whose idea of fun is poking tigers with short sticks, says conservatives should favor an inheritance tax rate at least as steep as the top rate on earned income. How, he asks, can conservatives square opposition to affirmative action and to inheritance taxes? Conservatives, he says, oppose af- firmative%iction because it confers on certain groups unearned advantages, and conservatives oppose inheritance taxes because such taxes deny a certain group — inheritors of the fruits of other people's successes — unearned advantages. This supposed contradiction is not as wounding as Stelzer supposes, because preferences administered by government and based SUNDAY FUNNIES GEORGE F. WILL The Washington Post on race are inherently obnoxious, whereas preferences based on kinship and administered by parents are not. Still, Stelzer prods conservatives with a sharp stick, as follows: If conservatives succeed in doubling the current $600,000 exemption of an estate's value from inheritance taxes, then an industrious individual who earns $1,200,000 by the sweat of his brow will pay almost $500,000 in income taxes, but an individual who inherits $1,200,000 from parents provided to him by the accident of birth will pay nothing. So conservatives, who say mighty blessings would flow from reduction of taxes on earned income, should favor reducing those taxes by a dollar amount equal to the amount raised by confis- catory taxes on inheritances. To the conservatives' objection that a 100 percent tax on inheritances would discourage parental thrift and industriousness, Stelzer responds that such a tax would increase the incentive for the children of the rich to pull up their socks and toil and save. If such a tax encouraged the affluent elderly to go on a binge of consumption to frustrate the IRS, that consumption would just replace the consumption of their frustrated heirs. Besides, such a tax might prompt a binge of charitable giving, a conservative goal. Stelzer says inheritance of wealth only gilds the already amply gilded lily of birth. Government cannot stop the intergenerational transfer of assets at least as valuable as financial ones — intelligence is largely heritable, and the children of the rich are apt to be expensively educated and supplied by their family context with useful goals, reputations and connections. So conservatives, who endorse equality of opportunity over liberal policies designed to produce equality of social outcomes, should, Stelzer says, favor inheritance taxes to produce a "level playing field." "What am I missing?" Stelzer asks. The answer, which his argument forcesjcon- servatives to face, is that economic reasoning must be subservient to philosophic reflection which teaches that "equality of opportunity" is an unsatisfactory aspiration. Inevitably, such equality is largely a chimera. And a "level playing field" can be produced only by a government resembling a rampaging bulldozer that would crush all other social values, including liberty, as it tries to level down excellences, in education and .elsewhere, that confer advantages. < [.: Inheritance taxes should be abolished to encourage an ennobling concern for posterity, not as a mere abstraction but in the concrete particularity of one's children. Self-absorption is an unlovely human tendency; beyond a; certain point, accumulation is mere hedonism and narcissism, unless directed beyond the horizon of one's mortality. The ability to look toward that horizon; >and to project one's thoughtfulness past it, is a distinctively human capacity, and humane public policy should encourage the inclination to do so. Furthermore, an unfettered right of inheritance would help to provide a social prerequisite for the political virtue of limited government. It would do so by encouraging society's molecular unit, the family, to pursue self-sufficiency. The surest way to strengthen family structure is by encouraging an ethic of provision that will braid the generations through the loving transmission of advantages. Speaking of familial matters, Stelzer's. Son, who lives in Denver, has not yet read his father's essay against the privilege of inheritance. Stelzer says his wife has, and is not speaking to him. Sound woman. • George F. Will, Ph.D., is a columnist for the Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Go ahead, smell her toilet, she won't mind You have to love a country where regular people's toilets are nationally famous I have received a number of letters from readers complaining that I focus too much on "bathroom humor," instead of using this forum to educate my readers about important issues that are of deep concern to our nation. OK, fine. I can take criticism, and I admit that maybe I have become somewhat fixated. So today my topic will be: China. China is a large nation located over in Asia. You readers should be more concerned about it. Now, with what little space I have remaining, I'd like to talk about a fascinating newspaper- insert advertisement for Vanish brand toilet cleaner. You may have seen this ad; it features a portrait-style color photograph of a middle-aged woman standing next to a toilet. She's smiling and holding a package of Vanish, and next to her head is this quotation, which I am not making up: '"I have the cleanest and the nicest smelling bathroom in the neighborhood. If anybody doesn't believe me, ring my doorbell and you can smell my toilet.' Pat Mayo, Hometown, Illinois." This ad was sent to me by alert reader Lee Burtman, who states: "As a very busy teacher and mother of four (including two young boys just learning to aim) I cannot imagine encouraging people to ring my doorbell and ask to smell the toilet." That was my reaction also. 1 mean, I don't DAVE BARRY The Miami lleraltl want to get explicit here, but there are times when I don't want my own loved ones going near my toilet. If total strangers were to start coming to my door and asking for a whiff of it, I would purchase a Sears Craftsman brand home flame-thrower. So I decided to contact Pat Mayo of Hometown, III, which turns out to be a real place, right next to Chicago (a large city). Pat said that she did, indeed, invite people to smell her toilet; in fact, she makes the same invitation in a TV commercial. Here, as she explained it to me, is what happened: A while back, Pat, who is a real stickler for housework, purchased some Vanish at the supermarket. She tried it and was very impressed with its toilet-cleansing properties. "I threw away my toilet brush," she said. She was so impressed that she called the Vanish people, and they decided to put her in one of those commercials wherein they use regular humans. As you know, with a lot of TV commercials, when you see "typical homemakers" getting worked up into an advanced state of rapture over the cleanliness of their toilets, you are actually watching paid professional actresses who, in real life, would no more clean a toilet than they would French- kiss a leech. Also, remember the Ty-D-Bol man? the guy who used to float around the toilet tank in a little boat? I hate to burst your bubble, but he wasn't real, either. He was just a professional actor who happened to be six inches tall. The real Ty-D-Bol man is only four inches tall and is always watching you via a little periscope. Try not to think about it. (Also, for the record, the so-called "Energizer Bunny" is actually Sylvester Stallone in a costume.) But getting back to Pat Mayo: She told me that she was filming the Vanish commercial, and she was wearing a long-sleeved outfit under these hot lights, and they kept putting powder on her, and the director kept badgering her to say, in her own words, why she was so fond of Vanish, and finally she just blurted out a blanket invitation to the world to come and smell her toilet, and that's what they put on TV. , I asked Pat if anybody has actually taken her up on this offer, and she said that about a week after the commercial started running, she was cleaning her house, and the doorbell rang; it was two neighborhood boys on bicycles, and they said "Hey, Mrs. Vanish, can we -smell your toilet?" So Pat let them in, and: they flushed it a couple of times, and she gave them soda pops and sent them on their way. "They were bragging around the neighborhood," Pat said. '"We smelled the Vanish Lady's toilet!'" i Yes, Pat has become a celebrity, and not just in her own neighborhood: She has been interviewed on several radio programs, an# she even got mentioned by Jay Leno. You hgve to love a country where one day a person can be just a regular private citizen in Hometown, 111., and the next day her toilet is beinjg discussed on nationwide television. That is the beauty of the American way of life, in stark contrast to the way of life in China, where — even now, in the late 20th Century — there is no Jay Leno. ; Next week's topic: "The Federal Reserve Board: What does it do? Who belongs to it? What kind of toilets do they have?" *, 4 • Dave Barry is a Pulitzer Prize-winding humor columnist for the Miami Herald. Alert readers can write to him in care of Tribune Media Services, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1500, Chicago, IL 60611, or via e-mati at tms@tribune.com. '<•£

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